Having a green card, also known as a permanent resident card, will allow you to live and work permanently in the USA. A green card is proof that its holder, a lawful permanent resident, has been officially granted immigration benefits, including permission to reside and take employment in the United States.However, the steps that you will need to take to obtain lawful permanent residence can vary greatly depending on your individual circumstances.The following guide looks at getting a green card in the USA, from the different basis of eligibility to how long an application for permanent residency can take.
US immigration laws provide a number of different ways for people to apply for permanent residency. That said, perhaps the most popular green card categories are the family-based and employment-based routes:
Family-based green card
You will be eligible to apply for permanent residence where you are the immediate relative of a US citizen, assuming, of course, that the relative in question is prepared to file a petition on your behalf to sponsor you, and you satisfy the other eligibility criteria.
“Immediate relative” includes a spouse, an unmarried child under the age of 21, or a parent where the US citizen is aged over 21.
Other family members of US citizens may also be eligible, as well as relatives of lawful permanent residents. These are based on the following five immigrant family-based preference categories:
- First preference (F1) – unmarried sons and daughters, 21 years of age and older, of US citizens
- Second preference (F2A) – spouses and children, unmarried and under 21 years of age, of lawful permanent residents
- Second preference (F2B) – unmarried sons and daughters, 21 years of age and older, of lawful permanent residents
- Third preference (F3) – married sons and daughters of US citizens, and
- Fourth preference (F4) – brothers and sisters of US citizens, if the US citizen is 21 years of age and older.
Unfortunately, however, most extended family members such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins, do not qualify for a family-sponsored green card.
Employment-based green card
Within the employment-based green card category there are multiple subcategories of workers that may be eligible to apply for permanent residence.
The main categories are as follows:
- EB-1 first preference immigrant workers – for priority workers such as those with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics, demonstrated through sustained national or international acclaim; or an outstanding professor or researcher; or a multinational manager or executive who meets certain criteria.
- EB-2 second preference immigrant workers – for members of a profession that requires an advanced degree; or have exceptional ability in the sciences, arts or business; or are seeking a national interest waiver (NIW). Under an NIW application, the applicant would seek a waiver of labor certification by establishing that admission to permanent residence in the United States will be in the national interest.
- EB-3 third preference immigrant workers – for skilled workers for jobs requiring a minimum of 2 years training or work experience; or workers performing unskilled labor requiring less than 2 years training or experience; or a professional whose job requires at least a US bachelor’s degree or foreign equivalent, and is a member of the profession.
- EB-4 fourth preference immigrant workers – for special workers, including religious workers, broadcasters, armed forces members, and international employees of the US government overseas.
- EB-5 fifth preference immigrants – for immigrant investors able to invest at least $1 million, or $500,000 in a high unemployment or rural area, in a new commercial enterprise in the United States that will create full-time positions for at least 10 qualifying employees.
Green card eligibility
The eligibility criteria for a green card will not only vary depending on the immigrant category you are applying under, but whether you are inside or outside the USA.
If you are currently in the United States you will need to file what’s known as an “Adjustment of Status” application. In other words, you will need to adjust status from your existing status without leaving the country, under a temporary visa or otherwise, to that of a lawful permanent resident.
Depending on how you entered the United States, or if you have committed a particular act or violation of immigration law, you may be barred from adjusting status. Generally speaking, to be eligible to apply for an adjustment of status you must satisfy the following criteria:
- You were lawfully admitted into the United States
- Your existing visa status remains valid
- You have not committed any crimes that make you ineligible for a visa
- You have not violated the conditions of your admission.
How to apply for a green card
Typically, when applying for a green card, you will need to complete at least two forms: an immigrant petition and a green card application.
The petition will need to be filed on your behalf by a US sponsor, usually a relative or employer, although in some cases, as with the EB-5 immigrant investor, you may be eligible to file for yourself.
Here are some examples of the most common petition forms that are submitted to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS):
- Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative
- Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker
- Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Investor.
Assuming USCIS approve your petition, generally speaking, you will either be required to go through consular processing abroad, using Form DS-260, Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration, or adjustment of status from within the United States, using Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
The steps you must take to apply for a green card will vary depending on your individual situation, however, in most cases you will need to attend a biometrics appointment to provide a scan of your fingerprints, your signature and a digital photograph of your face. You will also be required to attend an interview to answer questions on your application and eligibility for permanent residence.
Processing times for a green card
Although immigrant visas are always available for immediate relatives of US citizens, under US immigration laws, foreign nationals in the visa preference categories face annual limits on available visas.
The law essentially sets a limit on the total number of immigrant visa numbers that are assigned in each preference category every year, as well as the number that can be given out to nationals from a particular country.
Some categories are faster than others in that they have no delay in available visa numbers, either due to low numbers of people who are eligible or who choose to apply, while other categories might have wait times of several years.
A report known as the Visa Bulletin is released monthly by the US Department of State, and contains the most up-to-date information on the current availability of immigrant visa numbers. In this way you can check when best to apply, and whether visas are still available, or if there is a backlog for applicants from your particular country.
NNU Immigration can help if you have a question about US permanent residence
NNU Immigration’s specialist US immigration attorneys can help with all Green Card applications, including advice on eligibility and the application process.
If you have a specific question or require support with your application, please get in touch contact us.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.